Nearly 5,000 years ago the abacus emerged in Asia Minor. The abacus may be considered the first computer. This device allowed its users to make computations using a system of sliding beads arranged on a rack. Early shopkeepers used the abacus to keep up with transactions. The use of pencil and paper spread, the abacus lost its importance. Nearly twelve centuries past before the next important advance in computing devices emerged.
In 1642, Blaise Pascal, the 18-year-old son of a French tax collector, invented what he called a numerical wheel calculator to help his father with his duties. The Pascaline, a brass rectangular box, used eight movable dials to add sums up to eight figures long. Pascal's device used a base of ten to achieve this. The disadvantage to the Pascaline, of course, was its limitation to addition. In 1694, Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniza a German mathematician and philosopher improved the Pascaline by creating a machine that could also multiply. Like its predecessor, Leibniz's mechanical multiplier worked by a system of gears and dials.
It wasn't until 1820, however, that mechanical calculators gained widespread use. A Frenchman, Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar, invented a machine that could perform the four basic mathematic functions. The arithometer, presented a more systematic approach to computing because it could add, subtract, multiply and divide. With its enhanced versatility, the arithometer was widely used up until World War I.
The real beginnings of computers began with an English mathematics professor, Charles Babbage. Babbage's steam-powered Engine, outlined the basic elements of a modern general purpose computer and was a breakthrough concept. The Analytical Engine consisted of over 50,000 components. The basic design of included input devices in the form of perforated cards containing operating instructions and a "store" for memory of 1,000 numbers of up to 50 decimal digits long.
In 1889, an American inventor,...